The Elizabethan People/Chapter 5

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HAWKING. The sport of hawking as a fashionable and popular pastime reached its zenith about 1600. It was practised at the time by every one who could afford the luxury, and it was considered to be, beyond all others, the proper sport for a country gentleman. The difficulties, and, in fact, the personal danger encountered in capturing wild birds, for no hawk reared in captivity was considered fit for hunting, and the tiresome treatment necessary during the subsequent period of training for the field—all these together rendered the amusement expensive in the extreme. So valuable, indeed, were a hawk and her accompanying trappings that the gift was considered a fit present for a king to make or to receive. The members of the nobility were seldom seen abroad without their hawks and hounds. In earlier times, when bishops as well as lords followed the birds afield, the presence of the hawk was considered almost equivalent to a badge of nobility. One would die rather than give up his hawk, his especial privilege. By the time of Shakespeare, however, a mere gentleman found life hard if it had to be lived without a hawk. The sport was also, upon occasion, enjoyed by women.

The hawks, of which only the females were used in hunting, were caught wild when young. The female was used because, as Turberville tells us, "The female of all birds of prey and ravin is ever more huge than the male, more venturous, hardy, and watchful." There were many kinds of birds in use; and, though this chapter is headed by the term now best known in connection with the sport, the Elizabethan never lost sight of the distinction between the short-winged "hawk" and the long-winged "falcon." The "falcon towering in her pride of place" is a higher order of animal than a "fine hawk for a bush." It is scarcely necessary to enumerate here the different varieties of birds in use for hunting save to say that the female peregrine falcon has given her name to the art of falconry; for, says Turberville, "The falcon doth pass all other hawks in boldness and courtesy, and is most familiar to man of all other birds of prey."

The young of the wild hawks were, when captured, immediately put through a severe and cruel course of training in order to fit them for the field. Now that this sport has gone out of fashion, and with it our familiarity with its terms, one is likely to overlook the technical significance of the word "taming" in Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew. In this roaring farce, the character of Katharine is conceived throughout as a human embodiment of the spirit of a hawk. She is tamed as hawks were tamed; and the sudden and complete change in her character from extreme shrewishness to extreme docility was exactly similar to the familiar change that took place as the result of very similar treatment in the life of every hawk. This idea, though no Elizabethan could fail to see it, is explicity set forth by Petrucio:

"Thus have I politickly begun my reign,
And 'tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty;
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
She eat not meat to-day, nor none shall eat:
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not;
As with the meat some undeserved fault
I'll find about the making of the bed:
And here I'll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets:
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her:
And in conclusion she shall watch all night;
And if she chance to nod I'll rail and bawl
And with the clamour keep her still awake."

This passage is full of technical allusions to the process of training a hawk. In the first place, there was but one thing to be done to a wild hawk, namely to break her wilful spirit; but there were many ways in which it could be done. One was to keep her hungry to the verge of starvation, tantalizing her by the show of food. This is one of the methods resorted to by Petrucio. Another common mode of training was to keep the hawk awake till exhausted for want of sleep. The Elizabethan word for waking was watching. The word is used in this sense in the passage quoted above—he will watch (keep her awake) as we watch these kites. The word is similarly used in Othello, where Desdemona says, "I'll watch him tame." She means that she will keep Othello awake, give him no peace, till he is more tractable. Another even more cruel procedure consisted of sewing up the eyelids of the hawk for a time. This was called seeling. It suggested the line in Othello,

"To seel her father's eyes up close as oak."

This kind of cruelty can almost be forgiven as sometimes a necessary step in the training of a hawk; but it is painful to record that seelmg was sometimes performed by Elizabethans on harmless doves for the mere sport of witnessing their frantic and helpless misery. We are told in Sidney's Arcadia, " Now she brought them to see a seeled dove, who, the blinder she was, the higher she strove to reach." In an explanatory note to a passage in Ford's The Broken Heart, Gifford says: "It is told in The Gentleman's Recreation that this wanton amusement is sometimes resorted to for sport! The poor dove, in the agonies of pain, soars like the lark, as soon as dismissed from the hand, almost perpendicularly, and continues mounting till strength and life are totally exhausted, when she drops at the feet of her inhuman persecutors."

We have, however, not yet exhausted the allusions to falcony in Petrucio's speech. "I have a way to man my haggard," he says. "To man" was the technical term for gaining the mastery. An unmanned, that is, an untrained hawk, was called a haggard.

"If I do prove her haggard.
Though that her jesses were my dear heart strings,
I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune."

Thus, in his suspicious moment, Othello compares his wife to a haggard hawk. Oftentimes a hawk that had not been properly trained would turn aside while in the pursuit of prey in order to follow something else. This turning aside of a haggard was called checking, and is referred to in Marmion's motto, "Who checks at me to death is dight." And in the words of Viola:

"To do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their moods on whom he jests,
The quality of persons and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye."

Until the hawk had learned to fly properly at the game she was constantly "reclaimed," that is, drawn back by a long string after having been started. The falcons were cared for and trained by the falconer and his assistants, the falconer's boys. When the bird was injured in the hunt it was the falconer who proceeded to imp the wing. This process of mending required the broken wing to be carefully trimmed, and the feather of another bird matched to the broken one. One end of a wet iron needle was thrust into the quill of the new feather, and the other end into the quill of the feather to be imped. The joint was then bound up and the bird kept quiet till the whole had rusted together. Shakespeare refers to the custom literally in Richard II., in the phrase "imp out our country's broken wing," and figuratively in Coriolanus, "Imp a body [i.e. cure,] with a dangerous physic." It was furthermore part of the falconer's duty to understand all ailments of the hawk, and be able to apply the proper remedy. He also accompanied his master and superintended the flying of the hawks in the field. Favourite hawks were often kept in the great hall; but many, and all, during the period of moulting, were penned in their proper stable called the mews. Hence the terms to mew and to enmew. In later times, however, the name came to be applied to a stable for horses, a change in meaning due to the fact that the King's stable for horses happened to be built upon the site formerly occupied by the mews.

The hawk when not following the game was kept covered by a hood that completely blinded her. This headdress was made of silk or of leather, often exceedingly dainty and ornamental. It bore upon its top a little tuft of feathers that served as a handle by which it could be easily and quickly removed. The hawk was carried to the field hooded and perched upon the falconer's wrist, or upon his fist. If many hawks were taken at once they were carried upon the cadge borne by the cadge-boy. To each of the hawk's legs were attached thongs of leather or of silk, called jesses. They were used to bind the bird tightly to the wrist or to the cadge: hence the meaning of Othello's cry of despair:

"Though that her jesses were my dear heart strings."

The jesses passed between the falconer's fingers,

(From Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes.)

which in turn was fastened to the lines or leather straps that were wound about the wrist. There was a tiny silver bell of sweet tone attached to each leg of the falcon, but the notes of the bell were such as to jangle a discord, thus more usefully serving their purpose as an aid in tracking a bird that had strayed or hunted out of sight. These bells were attached by leather straps called bewits. To one of the bewits was fastened the creance, or long thread, used in reclaiming the hawk before she was fully trained.

When the game appeared in sight the hood was removed quickly from the head of the hawk. Then she was started, or whistled off, in the direction of the game that was at the moment passing before her eyes. For an instant she bated, that is, flapped her wings, then began her flight. The height reached during the flight was called the pitch. When she swooped down upon the prey she was said to stoop. Some breeds of hawks possessed the characteristic of soaring, technically termed towering. A bird was disedged when she had lost her keenness of appetite. Sometimes a hard substance was given the hawk to gnaw upon in order to disedge her; this process was called tiring.

If the hawk was loosed in the direction of the wind she was not likely to return, hence the custom of always choosing one's position so that it was possible to loose the hawk against the wind. This fact explains an oft-disputed passage in Hamlet. "When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw [heronshaw.]" A spectator watching a hawk loosed in a southerly wind would be looking away from the sun; consequently he could easily distinguish one from the other. If the wind were in the opposite direction the spectator's eyes would be towards the sun and the two birds be hard to distinguish.

The sport was visually pursued in the open country on horseback; in rough country or in the woods on foot. In the latter case the hunter carried a short pole to assist him in vaulting over the petty streams that he encountered in following his bird. Such game as ducks, herons, geese, pheasants, quail, partridge, plover, woodcocks, etc., were followed with hawks.

Frequently a day's hunting with the hawk was an elaborate affair. Every one would appear on horseback, following the falconer who had charge of the birds. They were carried to the field on such great occasions perched upon a frame called a cadge; and while upon the cadge the hawks were kept hooded and were in charge of the petty official named the cadger. When the dogs had located the game, the falconer took the hawk he wished to use from the cadge and mounted her, still hooded, upon his wrist. The dogs were then slipped and the game started out of cover. As soon as the game bird appeared in sight close at hand, the falconer unhooded his hawk, slipped the jesses that bound her to his wrist, and whistled her off. She rose at once to her full height, or pitch, then, taking careful aim, stooped, that is, darted down upon her prey. If the hawk missed her aim she had to rise to her full pitch and stoop again. A few, however, of the smaller kind of hawks pursued the game immediately, but the larger hawks and the falcons always followed the game after the above fashion.

When the hawk caught the bird she began to tear it to pieces. It was necessary for the falconer to be close at hand in order to rescue the bird from its pursuer, the hawks always being taken to the field hungry, a condition that improved their hunting qualities. The falconer usually rewarded the hawk with the head of the bird that had been caught; then he would re-hood the hawk and replace her upon the cadge till the dogs had aroused more game.

There are many terms connected with the art of falconry which space prevents from insertion here. Madden has much to say on the subject, and there are numerous contemporary handbooks pertaining to the art, one of which has recently been reprinted in facsimilie: The Boke of Saint Albans.

Hunting.—Of all outdoor games the Elizabethans best loved the great stag hunt. This grand occasion was generally made the excuse for festive merry-makings on a large scale both before and after the day's sport. The preliminary and formal process of locating the position of the stag before he was hunted took place either during the night in advance of the hunt or in the early morning hours of the hunt day itself. Not every animal, however, was suited to the occasion. The beasts of the chase were divided into two classes, thus: On one hand were the beasts of the forest, including the hart, the hind, the hare, the boar, and the wolf, who fed by night and lay in cover during the day; on the other hand were the beasts of the field, who lay secret at night, including the buck, the doe, the fox, the marten, and the roe. The hart, therefore, being a beast of the forest, must be harboured, or located while he was abroad in search of food at night.

It was the duty of the forester and of the huntsman to scour the country during the night before the hunt in order to discover the stag while he was feeding, and to follow him unperceived to his cover. This task was sometimes accomplished by actual sight of the stag, sometimes by observation of his tracks alone, and sometimes by the use of a hound. A thorough knowledge of woodcraft was necessary to the forester, as well as of the habits of the hart and of the topography of the surrounding country, which might not only determine the position of the chosen cover, but also the course taken by the stag when roused upon the morrow. The hound used in this delicate process of harbouring was variously called the liam-hound, the slot-hound, the limer, or the lym. His peculiar quality was that he followed the trail in silence. As soon as the first glow of dawn appeared, the forester and the huntsman would set out for the wood where the stag they had been tracking through the night had sought refuge. Before long the hound would discover the trail, and, though he would strain with might and main to free himself from the liam with which his master held him back, he would remain perfectly silent as they drew near the cover. The sharp eyes of the huntsman next discovered the "entry," or broken branches that indicated where the stag had entered the wood. A few additional branches were broken so that the place could be more easily found again. Being a beast of the forest the stag remained in cover, unless molested, throughout all the day. But there would be the possibility that he had changed his cover since the harbouring at night. So the huntsman's next task was to ascertain whether the stag had remained in this particular wood. In all likelihood he had, but, in order to make sure, the huntsman would make several circuits, or "ring-walks," about the wood. If the hound did not pick up the scent on any of these except at the original "entry," it was to be inferred that the stag had remained in the wood, or that he had left it at exactly the same point where he had in the first place made his entry. The likelihood of the latter contingency was practically reduced to nothing by making ring-walks at different distances both within and without the wood. If by this time it was broad daylight, the huntsman could rest secure in the belief that he had correctly harboured the stag, who would not of his own accord stir from the position he had chosen for his daytime bed till night. This practice of searching for the hart at night, and the finishing details at dawn, are thus referred to by Shakespeare in A Midsummer-Night's Dream.

"I with the morning's love have oft made sport,
And like a forester the groves may tread,
Even till the eastern gate, all fiery red,
Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,
Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams."

The unharbouring, or actual hunting of the hart, began with the "assembly," a sort of picnic, where hunters and guests met for an open air meal at some point not far from the place where the hart had been harboured, yet so far away that no sound of the assembly revels could reach his ears. When all was ready the entire hunt set out for the cover, accompanied by the hounds. The technical term for the pack of hounds was the cry, the kind and number of the hounds being chosen so that they "cried" a chord of music. "If you would have your kennel for sweetness of cry," says Markham, "you must compound it of some large dogs that have deep solemn mouths, and are swift in spending, which must, as it were, bear the base of the consort; then a double number of roaring and loud ringing mouths which must bear the counter tenor; then some hollow, plain, sweet mouths, which must bear the mean or middle part; and so with these three parts of music you shall make your cry perfect; and herein you shall observe that these hounds thus mixed do run just and even together, and not hang off loose from one another, which is the vilest sight that may be; and you shall understand that this composition is best to be made of the swiftest and largest deep-mouthed dog, the slowest middle-sized dog, and the shortest legged slender dog; amongst these you may cast in a couple or two of small single beagles, which as small trebles may warble amongst them: the cry will be a great deal more sweet."

With this quotation from the practical writer upon domestic affairs in mind, one realises how far from figurative are the allusions to the music of the hounds contained in this well known passage from A Midsummer-Night's Dream:

"Go, one of you, and find out the forester;
For now our observation is perform'd;
And since we have the vaward of the day,
My love shall hear the music of my hounds.
Uncouple in the western valley; let them go;
Dispatch. I say, and find the forester,
We will, fair queen, up to the mountain's top
And mark the musical confusion
Of sounds and echo in conjunction."

By means of the cry the stag was dislodged or roused. The hunt approached with a great clamour, the pack in full cry, the people shouting and singing "The hunt is up! The hunt is up!"

"The hunt is up, the morn is bright and grey,
The fields are fragrant and the woods are green."

(Titus Andronicus.)

"Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes;
O, now I would they had changed voices too!
Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
Hunting thee hence, with hunts up to the day.

(Romeo and Juliet.

Trained Bears.

(From Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes.")

The next moment the stag broke cover with the whole pack hard upon his heels. The hardiest and most enthusiastic hunters followed the hunt in all its windings, encouraging the hounds, ridiculing false moves, and in every way assisting as far as possible in turning the stag towards some difficult piece of country where he could be more easily tired out and brought to bay. It was at this point that a knowledge of the topography of the surrounding country, of the animal's habits, of artificial obstructions or toils, etc., often enabled one to tell in advance where the stag would find himself compelled to stand at bay. To this point less hardy riders and the women, for hunting was a sport often enjoyed by women, would repair to await the critical moment of the finish.

Through fatigue, or through being cornered, the panting stag would at last be brought to bay. This moment was always one of extreme danger to the hounds, for many of them were often maimed or even killed outright by the infuriated stag. Note how Shakespeare, who was keenly interested in all matters pertaining to the hunt, describes in Venus and Adonis this fatal moment:

"Here kennel'd in a brake she finds a hound,
And asks the weary caitiff for his master,
And there another licking of his wound,
'Gainst venom'd sores the only sovereign plaster;
And here she meets another sadly scowling,
To whom she speaks and he replies with howling.

"When he hath ceased his ill-resounding noise,
Another flap-mouthed mourner, black and grim,
Against the welkin volleys out his voice;
Another and another answer him,
Clapping their proud tails to the ground below,

Shaking their scratch'd ears, bleeding as they go."

The huntsman, in order to save the lives of his dogs, customarily dashed in from behind and killed the stag with a short sword or dagger. All those who were present with horns blew the "mort" of the deer, and the hunters were then ready for the last ceremony.

The "assay," which followed next in order, is thus described in The Noble Art of Venery: "Our order is that the prince or chief (if so please them) do augur and take assay of the deer with a sharp knife, the which is done in this manner: The deer being laid upon his back, the prince, chief, or such as they shall appoint, comes to it; and the chief huntsman (kneeling, if it be a prince), doth hold the deer by the fore foot, whiles the prince or chief cut a slit drawn alongst the brisket of the deer, somewhat lower than the brisket towards the belly. This is done to see the goodness of the flesh, and how thick it is."

The office next performed was the breaking up of the carcass, thus inveighed against by Erasmus: "When they have run down their game, what strange pleasure they take in cutting it up. Cows and sheep may be slaughtered by common butchers, but what is killed in hunting must be broke up by none under a gentleman, who shall throw down his hat, fall devoutly on his knees, and drawing out a slashing hanger (for a common knife is not good enough) after several ceremonies shall dissect all the parts as artificially as the best skilled anatomist, while all that stand round shall look very intently, and seem to be mightily surprised with the novelty, though they have seen the same an hundred times before, and he that can but dip his finger and taste of the blood shall think his own bettered thereby."

The custom mentioned in the last line is also referred to by Shakespeare in the following words: "And here thy hunters stand, Signed in thy spoil, and crimsoned in thy lethe." In a note to this passage, Mr. Madden says: "Lethe is a term used by hunters to signify the blood shed by a deer at its fall, with which it is still a custom to mark those who come in at the death." This ceremony ended the stag hunt, save for the afternoon and evening spent in all sorts of merrymakings and festive games indoors, besides eating and drinking to a late hour. A passage in Shakespeare, namely:

"If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trash
For his quick hunting, shall stand the putting on,
I'll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,"

has been a source of bother to many commentators. It was necessary, both for the purpose of effective hunting, and in order that the sound of the pack be harmonious at a distance, that the hounds, while running, keep close together. A hound who was guilty of running ahead of the pack "overtopped" the rest. Though it has long been known that the prevention of this habit was performed by "trashing," the exact nature of the cure was not so plain. One way was to impede the hound by hanging "clogs," or weights, about his neck. Mr. Madden's note, however, throws much additional light on the subject. He says in substance as follows. It [trash] is used as a substantive by Gervase Markham in his Country Contentments. He mentions trashes with couples, liams, collars, etc., among articles commonly kept in a huntsman's lodgings. Mr. Madden quotes from an earlier writer to the following effect: "A hound that runs too fast for the rest ought not to be kept. Some huntsmen load them with heavy collars; some tie a long strap round their necks; a better way would be to part with them. Whether they go too slow or too fast, they ought equally to be drafted." Mr. Madden continues in his own words: "However the trash may have been applied, it clearly appears, from Beckford's words, to have consisted of a long strap, kept by the huntsman, according to Markham, with collars, liams, and other articles of the same kind. When the hound was running, this long strap, dragged along the ground, handicapped the overtopping hound." Shakespeare further alludes to the subject in The Tempest.

"Being once perfected how to grant suits,
How to deny them, who to advance and who
To trash for overtopping."

It is interesting to note further how the sport of hunting flavours the language of Shakespeare. To give a complete list of references would fill many pages; but the following, chosen at random, are sufficient to illustrate the point:

"That instant was I turned into a hart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me."

"Here wast thou bay'd, brave hart;
Here didst thou fall; and here thy hunters stand,
Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy lethe.
O world, thou wast the forest to this hart;
And this, indeed, O world, the heart of thee.
How like a deer, strucken by many princes,
Dost thou here lie."

"Match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tunable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn."

"Souter will cry upon 't for all this, though it
be as rank as a fox."

"How cheerfully on the false trail they cry,
O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!"

"I do follow here in the chase, not like a hound
that hunts, but one that fills up the cry."

"You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o' the rotten fens."

"And then to sigh as 't were the mort o' the deer."

"Why do you go about to recover the wind of me
as if you would drive me into a toil?"

"Do not cry havoc, where you should but hunt with
modest warrant."

The Horse.—The horse in Shakespeare's time was a necessary belonging to a man even of modest circumstances. The country roads were then so bad as to be quite unfit for the rapid movement of any sort of wheeled vehicle. People travelled in the saddle; or on the pillion; and most of the transport of goods was done by pack-horse.

The best horses of Tudor times were far different from the thoroughbred of to-day, an animal that derives his best blood from the Arabian breed, which was not seen in England before 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death. Neither the race horse, the carriage horse, the cart horse, the hack, nor the hunter as they are to-day was then in use. There were instead, as Blundeville tells us, "the Turk, the Barbarian, the Sardinian, the Neapolitan, the Jennet of Spain, the Hungarian, the High Almaine, the Friezeland horse, the Flanders mare, and the Irish hobby." The same writer informs us that the hobby was "a pretty fine horse, having a good head and body indifferently well proportioned, saving that many of them be slender and pin-buttocked, they be tender mouthed, nimble, light, pleasant, and apt to be taught, and for the most part they be amblers, and therefore very meet for the saddle and to travel by the way." They were, however, "somewhat skittish and fearful, partly, perhaps, by nature and partly for the lack of good breeding at the first." There were also many kinds of home-bred horses of great popularity, the best of which were reared in Yorkshire. Though Gervase Markham asserts that "the true bred English horse, him I mean that is bred under a good clime, on firm ground, in a pure temperature, is of tall stature, and large proportions," it is true that most of the native breed had degenerated in size to such an extent that they were little better than ponies. "The great decay of the generation and breeding of good and swift and strong horses" is deplored in some of the statutes framed in the latter part of the reign of King Henry VII. "The altitude and height prescribed by these statutes, thirteen handfulls for mares, and fifteen for horses, tell their own tale, and even this standard for horses was afterward lowered to thirteen hands in regard to certain 'marishes, or seggy grounds in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere." (Madden.) "The horses are small but swift," said Hentzner, who published a description of his journey through England in 1598; and Rathgeb, in 1602, wrote, "Horses are abundant, yet, although low and small, they are very fleet."

Little, however, was accomplished towards improving the breed, either by statute or by public agitation. "Master Blundeville's appeal," says Mr. Madden, "to the noblemen and gentlemen of England to turn their enclosures into practical use in improving the breed of horses, and the statutes which I have quoted, lead to the conclusion that horse breeding in England was in his time generally conducted after the haphazard fashion still in use in open and unenclosed countries."

The great horse market of London was West Smithfield, where the English showed themselves more proficient in selling a bad than in raising a good breed of domestic animal. Shakespeare in

Trained Animals.

(From Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes.")

Venus and Adonis gives a list of points pertaining to a perfect and marketable horse that is transferred almost word for word from a similar list expressed in prose by Blundeville.

"So did this horse excel a common one,
In shape, in courage, colour, pace, and bone.
Round hoof'd, stort-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
Look, what a horse should have he did not lack."

It is interesting to note that the quack physiological beliefs of the time were held to be as true of horses as of human beings. "He [the horse]," says Blundeville, "is complexioned according as he doth participate more or less of any of the iiij elements. For if he hath more of the earth than of any of the rest, he is melancholy, heavy and faint-hearted, and of colour a black, a russet, or a bright or dark dun. But if he hath more of the water then is he phlegmatic, slow, dull, and apt to lose flesh, and of colour most commonly a milk white. If of the air, then is he sanguine, and therefore pleasant, nimble, and is of colour commonly a bay. And if of the fire, then is he choleric, and therefore light, hot, fiery, a stirrer, and seldom of any great strength, and is wont to be of colour a light sorrel. But when he doth participate of all the four elements, equally, and in due proportion, then is he perfect, and most commonly be one of the colours following," among which he mentions roan as the most desirable.

Another detail in the selection of a horse is of interest because it affords an explanation of several passages in contemporary dramatic literature that have been occasionally misunderstood. It was considered not only an ill omen for a horse to have no white upon its body, but "it is an excellent good mark also for a horse to have a white star in his forehead. The horse that hath no white at all upon him is furious, dogged, full of mischief and misfortune." (Markham.) The usual expression used to describe a horse that had no white spot in his forehead was "a horse with a cloud in his face." Hence, in reply to the observation "He has a cloud in's face," Enobarbus remarks, "He were the worse for that were he a horse."

Of the horses exposed for sale in Smithfield Market, the place of first importance should be given to the "great horse" or "horse of service." He was useful in the wars and in the tourney at a time when it required an animal of great strength to bear the weight of his own and his master's armour. Armour was going out of fashion in the time of Elizabeth, but this kind of horse was still in great demand. The High Almaine or German horse was, perhaps, the most highly prized breed for this purpose. He was strongly made, according to Blundeville, "and therefore more meet for the shock than to pass a carrierre, or to make a swift manage, because they be very gross and heavy." The Flanders horse was also desirable, which was like the other, "saving that for the most part he is of a greater stature and more puissant. The mares also of Flanders be of a great stature, strong, long, large, fair, and fruitful, and beside that will endure great labour." Of the Neapolitan horse Blundeville says, "In mine opinion, their gentle nature and docility, their comely shape, their strength, their courage, their sure footmanship, their well reining, their lofty pace, their clean trotting, their strong galloping, and their swift running well considered (all which things they have in manner by nature) they excel numbers of other races, even so far as the fair greyhounds the foul mastif curs." With the complete disuse of armour disappeared the demand for the "great" horse, yet he was not doomed to extinction, for his descendent is the draft horse of to-day.

The horse of next importance was the roadster. The proper animal for the purpose in those days was not a trotter, but an ambler. This name applied to a particular pace in which the fore and hind leg on each side moved simultaneously. When a horse was taught to amble his legs were geared together by means of trammels. Some horses were hard to train; others, by nature, learned the pace with great ease. Notable in this respect was the Irish hobby, which was, therefore, the most popular riding horse.

The foot-cloth horse was a staid trotting horse used for show. He was so called from the long, ornamental hanging, called a foot-cloth, that was always used as a decoration on state occasions. "Three times to-day my foot-cloth horse did stumble," occurs in King Richard III. A dignified mount for a venerable person in civil life was a mule. It was thus Lord Burghley took his daily exercise, riding about his private grounds. Such an animal, we learn from Shakespeare, was, upon state occasions, also dignified with the covering of a foot-cloth.

"Obscure and lowly swain, King Henry's blood,
The honourable blood of Lancaster,
Must not be shed by such a jaded groom.
Hast thou not kiss'd thy hand and held my stirrup?
Bare headed plodded by my foot-cloth mule
And thought thee happy when I shook my head.

The horses most frequently used in hunting and hawking were the tiny native breed. Inasmuch, however, as these sports were usually followed on foot, any wiry, swift animal was sufficient for occasional need.

"The pack-horse, with his pack-saddle laden with merchandise, was a familiar object not only on the highway, but on numerous tracks known as pack-horse roads, which are still pointed out in numerous parts of the country. His pace was neither to trot nor amble, but a fast walk known as a foot-pace." (Madden.) "If you will choose a horse for portage, that is, for the pack or hampers, chose him that is exceeding strong of body and limb, but not tall, with a broad back, out ribs, full shoulders, and thick withers, for if he be thin in that part you shall hardly keep his back from galling." (Markham.)

Of races and race-horses nothing need be said beyond the fact that, though horses were often matched in speed against each other, and though there were a few great races every year, as that at the Cotswold games, there was no special breed of horses for the sport. In fact, racing in Tudor times was so occasional as scarcely to merit consideration.

The Elizabethan trained his horse, especially the horse of service, with the greatest care. Much space is devoted to this subject by Blundeville, He describes seven stages in the regular course of training. First, the horse was paced, that is, taught to amble. "Secondly, you must teach him to light at stop.… Thirdly, to advance before, and yerk out behind." Markham advises one to train his horse to "yerk out behind, yet so as it may be perceived it is your will and not the horse's malice." Blundeville's fourth stage is "to turn, readily on both hands with single turn and double turn." The fifth is "to make a sure and ready manage." The sixth and most important stage refers to the carrierre. "When your horse is perfect in the manages aforesaid, then you may pass a career at your pleasure, which is to run a horse forthwith at his full speed, and then making him stop quickly, suddenly firm and close in the buttocks." Brevity of duration and the sudden termination were the essential qualities of a good career.[1] Into the seventh class of things taught to a horse, Blundeville puts all such fancy but useless accomplishments as the curvet, which he describes as "a certain continual prancing and dancing up and down, still in one place, like a bear at a stake, and sometimes sidling to and fro, wherein the horse maketh as though he would fain run, and cannot be suffered."[2]

The limit of the present work precludes a more detailed reference to the art of horsemanship and of farriery, arts, however, that were so intimately associated with the daily life of the Elizabethans that references to them are found continually in the dramatic literature of the time. The reader who would follow the matter further will find a chapter titled "The Horse in Shakespeare" in Mr. Madden's The Diary of Master William Silence, where are gathered together all the poet's allusions to the horse. The best source, however, is the contemporary treatises. Blundeville, so frequently quoted above, wrote The Four Chiefest Offices of Horsemanship. Gervase Markham wrote several works upon the subject, namely: A Discourse of Horsemanship; How to Chuse, Ride, etc., a Horse; Cavelerice, or the English Horseman; A Cure for all the Deseases of Horses; and Masterpiece, a treatise on farriery.

Let us end this brief note on an interesting subject with a quotation from one of the best descriptive writers of the Elizabethan time—William Harrison: "Our horses, moreover, are high, and, although not commonly of such huge greatness as in other places of the main, yet, if you respect the easiness of their pace it is hard to say where their like are to be had. Our land doth yield no asses, and therefore we want the generation of mules and somers, and therefore the most part of our carriage is made by these, which, remaining stone [ungelded], are either reserved for the cart or appointed to bear such burdens as are convenient for them. Our cart or plough horses (for we use them indifferently) are commonly so strong that five or six of them (at the most) will draw three thousand weight of the greatest tale with ease for a long journey, although it be not a load of common usage, which consisteth only of two thousand, or fifty foot of timber, forty bushels of white salt, or six and thirty of hay, or five quarters of wheat, experience daily teacheth, and I have elsewhere remembered. Such as are kept also for burden will carry four hundred weight commonly without any let or hindrance. This, furthermore, is to be noted, that our princes and the nobility commonly have their carriage made by carts, thereby it Cometh to pass that when the Queen's majesty doth remove from any one place to another, there are usually four hundred carewares, which amount to the sum of two thousand four hundred horses,

Trick Horses.
(From Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes.")

appointed out of the countries adjoining, whereby her a carriage is conveyed safely unto the appointed place. Hereby the ancient use of somers and sumpter horses is in manner utterly relinquished, which causes the trains of our princes in their progresses to show far less than those of the kings of other nations.

"Such as serve for the saddle are commonly gelded, and now grow to be very dear among us, especially if they be well coloured, justly limbed, and have thereto an easy ambling pace. For our countrymen, seeking their ease in every corner where it is to be had, delight very much in these qualities, but chiefly in their excellent paces, which, besides that it is a manner peculiar to horses of our soil, are not hurtful to the rider or owner sitting on their backs, it is moreover very pleasant and delectable in his ears, in that the noise of their well proportioned pace doth yield comfortable sound as he travelleth by the way. Yet is there no greater deceit used anywhere among our horse-keepers, horse-coursers, and hostelers; for such is the subtle knavery of a great sort of them (without exception of any of them be it spoken which deal for private gain) that an honest-meaning man shall have very good luck among them if he be not deceived by some false trick or other.

"There are certain noble markets wherein great plenty of horses and colts are bought and sold, and whereunto such as have need resort to buy and make their necessary provision of them, as Ripon, Newport Pond, Wolfpit, Harboro', and divers others. But, as most drovers are very diligent to bring store of these into these places, so many of them are too-too lewd in abusing such as buy them. For they have a custom, to make them look fair to the eye, when they come within two days' journey of the market to drive them till they sweat, and for the space of eight or twelve hours, which being done they turn them all over the backs in some water, where they stand for a season, and then go forward with them to the place appointed, where they make sale of their affected ware, and such as by this means do fall into many deseases and maladies. Of such outlandish [foreign] horses as are daily brought over unto us I speak not, as the jennet of Spain, the courser of Naples, the hobby of Ireland, the Flemish roile and the Scottish nag, because that further speech of them cometh not within the compass of this treatise, and for whose breed and maintenance (especially of the greatest sort) King Henry the Eighth erected a noble studdery, and for a time had very good success with them, till the officers, waxing weary, procured a mixed brood of bastard races, whereby his good purpose came to little effect. Sir Nicholas Arnold of late hath bred the best horses in England, and written of the manner of their production: would to God his compass of ground were like to that of Pella in Syria, wherein the king of that nation had usually a studdery of 30,000 mares and 300 stallions, as Strabo doth remember, lib. 16."

  1. The difference between this meaning and the modern connotation of the word career has led to some misunderstanding of the text of Shakespeare. An interesting discussion of this subject is to be found in Madden page 297.
  2. The spur, bit, saddle, and the riding-rod, as the whip was called, were then in use in a manner similar to the practice of to-day, save that the kinds of bit were more numerous.